Directed by Im Kwon-taek, starring Choi Min-sik, Ahn Sung-ki, Yoo Ho-jung, Kim Yeo-jin, Son Yae-jin, Han Myung-goo.
At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Korea's Im Kwon-taek tied with Paul Thomas Anderson for Best Director. Anderson's 'Punch Drunk Love' appeared on the big screen earlier this year but it is only now that Kwon-taek's compelling rags-to-riches tale finally sees the light.
'Chihwaseon (Drunk on Women and Poetry)' is a late 19th Century epic, intertwining the historical collapse of the Joseon Dynasty with the life of legendary Korean painter Jang Seung-up. From being an orphaned peasant, obliged to beg for a living, Seung-up - who subsequently took the name Oh-won, thus becoming the third famous "won" painter in Korea - became a nationally respected artist. Although his works are now considered near divine in Korea, Kwon-taek portrays the defiant Seung-up as being fuelled by alcohol and lust - when confined to the king's palace he declares himself unable to work without wine and women. His life story also incorporates graphic sex, 'Hulk'-like chest beating, religious persecution - and beautifully realised painting scenes.
Choi Min-sik gives a no-holds-barred performance as the arrogant and driven Jang Seung-up. His Seung-up confronts life with the same gusto he uses in attacking his fragile rice paper canvas, constantly pushing himself to find new means of expression as he wrestles images into submission.
Boasting "Korea's largest set ever built", director Im Kwon-taek has a bold, if occasionally disjointed vision, realised with the help of cinematographer and long time collaborator Jung Il-Sung. Shots of the Korean landscape, colourful flowers and the stark lines of birds against a winter sky echo Seung-up's paintings of "Flowers and Birds", introducing western audiences to the aesthetics of an unfamiliar artistic tradition.
One of Jang Seung-up's mentors teaches him that what lies between the brushstrokes can be more important than the strokes themselves. Kwon-taek applies the same ideas to 'Chihwaseon', giving Seung-up's struggle a resonance that reaches far beyond 19th Century Korea.